The birthplace of both the king of the Olympian gods and of modern European civilization, Crete is a Mediterranean jewel. It’s rich with archaeological and mythological history that’s reflected in its ancient ruins and cultural attractions. Soak up the charming atmosphere of Heraklion’s Old Venetian Harbor or the fortresses and monasteries of Rethymno. The awesome Minoan ruins of Malia date to 1900 BC, and majestic Mt. Ida is said to be home to the cave where Zeus was born.
Welcome to Crete! We will meet you at the Heraklion International airport (HER) and transport you by luxury van to our private hillside villa estate, your countryside Cretan home for the week. After a bite to eat, you have the rest of the afternoon to unpack, unwind and explore the luxurious estate overlooking the Aegean Sea and take a dip in our private pool. Then you will enjoy an amazing Gourmet Dinner provided by Le Cordon Bleu-Paris alum Chef Walter Eagleton and the Artistic Gourmet Adventures staff at the villa.
Wake rested and refreshed. After a filling homemade breakfast at our Villa we will head out to our first historical spot, the cradle of Crete, the Knossos Palace with our resident expert and historian guide. The center of Minoan civilization and capital of Minoan Crete lay 5km south of Heraklion.
Knossos flourished for approximately two thousand years. It had large palace buildings, extensive workshop installations and luxurious rock-cut cave and tholos tombs. As a major center of trade and the economy, Knossos maintained ties with the majority of cities in the Eastern Mediterranean. Wealth accumulation and the advancement of an urban lifestyle were the hallmarks of this zenith, which began circa 2000 BC and was typified by magnificent monumental buildings and a complex social structure. The Minoan palace is the main site of interest at Knossos, an important city in antiquity, which was inhabited continuously from the Neolithic period until the 5th c. AD. The palace was built on the Kephala hill and had easy access to the sea and the Cretan interior. According to tradition, it was the seat of the wise king Minos. The Palace of Knossos is connected with thrilling legends, such as the myth of the Labyrinth, with the Minotaur, and the story of Daidalos and Ikaros. We will enjoy a delicious and relaxing lunch* in a local terraced restaurant in the center of a nearby town.
After lunch* we will then adventure to the fascinating Heraklion Archaeological Museum. This museum is one of the oldest and most important museums in Greece, and among the most famous museums in Europe. It houses representative artifacts from all periods of Cretan prehistory and history covering a chronological span of over 5,500 years from the Neolithic period to Roman times. The Heraklion Archaeological Museum prides itself for its unique Minoan collection, which includes the masterpieces of Minoan art. It is rightly considered as the Museum of Minoan Culture par excellence.
Full of knowledge and ready to rest, we will head back to the Villa for a swim in the lap pool or a nap on the many verandas before we are treated to another amazing Gourmet Dinner provided by Le Cordon Bleu-Paris alum Chef Walter Eagleton and the Artistic Gourmet Adventures staff at the villa.
After a delicious breakfast at our villa, we will venture out to the fascinating town of Reythmno located on the blue Aegean Sea. Rethymno was originally built during the Minoan civilization. The city was prominent enough to mint its own coins and maintain urban growth. One of these coins is today depicted as the crest of the town: two dolphins in a circle. Today’s old town was almost entirely built by the Republic of Venice. It is one of the best-preserved old towns in Crete. The town was captured by the Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1646 and they ruled it for almost three centuries. We will enjoy a walking tour of the town and market guided by our local expert and friend and stop to visit 84-year-old Giorgos Hatziparaskos, the last phyllo pastry master in the town and taste his creations of baklava and Kantaifi, a pastry spun on a large machine to make long thread-like pastry used in many Greek sweets. Inside a simple Venetian house with high, white walls and huge open spaces, this artisan has been working the ultra-thin pastry by hand since the times of the Second World War. After lunch* in a local restaurant you may spend the rest of the day shopping or visiting the local beach.
We will then head back to our villa for an evening of delicious food, fine wine, and relaxation. Breakfast and Gourmet Dinner provided by Le Cordon Bleu-Paris Alum Chef Walter Eagleton and Artistic Gourmet Adventures at our villa.
After a homemade breakfast, we will continue our Adventure and take a scenic drive to the western hills of the Cretan countryside where we will spend a few hours sampling and learning about the wines in a family owned winery of Crete. Our tasting experience will be accompanied by a delicious selection of delicious, traditional and chef-created Greek dishes (included). We will then head back to our Cretan home away from home where you have the rest of the afternoon to take a dip in our private pool, have a cocktail and soak up the Cretan sun then enjoy a relaxing evening with a multi course gourmet dinner.
Breakfast and Gourmet Dinner provided by Le Cordon Bleu-Paris Alum Chef Walter Eagleton and Artistic Gourmet Adventures at our villa.
Today, after breakfast, we will take a short drive north into the hills to visit the famous Arkadi Monastery. The exact date of the founding of the monastery is not precisely known. According to tradition, the foundation of the monastery is sometimes attributed to the Byzantine emperor Heraclius and sometimes to the emperor Arcadius in the 5th century. And, according to the second version, the monastery took its name from the name of the emperor. However, in Crete, it is common for monasteries to be named after the monk that founded the building, which lends support to the theory that Arkadi may have been founded by a monk named Arkadios. Another theory is that the monastery was built on the site of an ancient city, Arcadia. Legend tells that after the destruction of Arcadia, all the springs and fountains stopped flowing until a new city was built.
We will then visit the tiny town of Margarites and enjoy a traditional Cretan lunch* in a family owned taverna overlooking the green valley. The village, which has some extraordinary architecture and lovely narrow winding streets is located in picturesque green rolling hills. The village is well known for its pottery. We will visit a fascinating pottery studio where we will see a demonstration of the making of original and traditional designs by the studio owner. A little shopping andthen, back to the Villa for another amazing dinner and fellowship.
Breakfast and Gourmet Dinner provided by Le Cordon Bleu-Paris Alum Chef Walter Eagleton and Artistic Gourmet Adventures at our villa.
Awake rested and ready to sail! We will take a short drive to the harbor of Rethymno where we will board our 82 foot luxury yacht for a fantastic day of touring the northern coast of Crete. We will enjoy a light breakfast on board and then head out to some of the most gorgeous teal and turquoise water in the Adriatic. We will stop and swim in the clear waters off the coast and soak up the Cretan sun. After a lunch (included) of fresh seafood grilled on board our yacht, we will set sail again for more beautiful vistas. We will then head back to port and on to our private villa where we will finish the evening with a special farewell dinner. Dinner provided by Le Cordon Bleu-Paris Alum Chef Walter Eagleton and Artistic Gourmet Adventures at our villa.
Today, we enjoy breakfast at our villa, then we say goodbye, transport you back to the Heraklion airport and send you on your way home or on to your next adventure!
Perched on the top of Crete, surrounded by the turquoise sea and the vast olive groves, our Villa is a perfect spot from which to explore Crete and its legends! Enjoy tranquillity, comfort and luxuriousness in this exquisite villa. Set on 64,600 sq. feet of land overlooking the Aegean sea, our Villa is an exceptional private escape getaway. The main floor of the house opens directly onto a veranda which houses the 82 foot long ecological pool. Enjoy tranquillity, comfort and luxuriousness of this hillside villa. The Villa is lined with floor-to-ceiling windows and doors for added light and access to the patio and pool.
Entering the villa on the ground floor there is a spacious open plan area consisting of the living room, dining area and kitchen which are strategically placed to take advantage of the splendid view.
On the right side there is a living room area with a fireplace. On the left side there is an indoor dining area.
The space is lined with floor-to-ceiling windows and doors for added light and access to the patio and pool.
Our Villa hosts six bungalows all with their own private entrance, ensuite bathroom with a shower and terraces.
The beautifully landscaped outdoor area of the villa offers a variety of spots for relaxation including a, 328 sq. foot infinity ecological swimming pool. A pool house with fully equipped charcoal barbecue and dining table offering views to the pool and the surrounding landscape.
A variety of furnished spots (with sun beds, outdoor sofas and gazebo bed) for relaxing in the terrace and the garden around the villa. We also have a Ping pong table, two bicycles and our very own private pétanque court. Built to professional standards the court provides a great opportunity to learn this fun and popular French game. Pétanque tournaments are bound to keep everyone entertained in this skill based game. The first of its kind in Crete.
Let your mood guide you and simply pick your preferred spot, Artistic Gourmet Adventures will take care of the rest!
We will meet you at the Heraklion Airport and escort you by private van to your sea view Villa home for the week, and take you back to Heraklion Airport at the end of the Adventure.
The Artistic Gourmet Adventures’ driver’s greeting window time is between 1530-1730 (or 3:30pm-5:30pm) on Sunday. For the comfort of you, and our other travel weary Adventurers, it is preferred that arrival times be planned within these hours for the drive back to the Villa. You will all be traveling together to the Villa and from the Villa. If you have an arrival after these hours, we are happy to arrange a taxi for you (approximately $95 one way) from the airport directly to the Villa.
Please plan for an early departure from the Villa on Saturday, the last day of your Adventure, back to the Heraklion Airport. You will all be traveling together to the Airport. If you have a departure before these hours, we are happy to arrange a taxi for you (approximately $95 one way) to the airport directly from the Villa.
Adventure cost is includes:
Daily ground transportation to excursion by van, all excursion costs, all gourmet breakfasts, dinners and wine, when dining at accommodations. Luxury Villa accommodations with private bathrooms are included.
*Meals and alcohol outside the accommodations are not included.
Airfare not included.
Proof of Travel Insurance is required and can be bought on line from Squaremouth.com.
$4550 pp single occupancy
$4150 pp double occupancy
Nonrefundable deposit of $750 pp due upon booking.
The diet of Crete forms much of the basis of the now famous Mediterranean diet known for its health benefits including reduced cardiovascular disease and cancer rates. Within Greece, Crete’s cuisine stands out for its flavors and traditional dishes.
Wine and bread usually accompany lunch and dinner. Sweets and a drink of raki, a digestive, commonly end a meal. Many consider wine and olive oil the “holy alliance” in the Cretan diet, and often if you find olive trees, a vineyard is nearby. Families produce their own olive oil and wine, a tradition that continues even today.
Wines of Crete
With 6,000 years of wine making behind it, learning about Cretan wines serves as a history lesson as well. The oldest existing wine-press dates back 3,500 years. It was found in Vathipetro, near Archanes, a popular wine region of Crete. Minoan ruins have underground wine storage facilities and the Minoan traded wine and other products from Crete.
Amphora, the earthen ware jugs used for wine making and storage have also been widely found. In order to supply the Roman empire with wine, widespread cultivation of vines occurred in Crete. Later under Venetian rule, exporting of wine resumed. In 1415, records indicate over 20,000 barrels of wine exported from Crete. One hundred and fifty years later, this increased to 60,000 barrels.
The most common varietals of wine in Crete are vilana and vidiano (white) and Kotsifali (red). Syrah and Kostifali are a common blend. Liatiko, used to make a sweet desert wine served chilled, grows as well.
Tsikoudia, also known as raki, is considered the Cretan Spirit. Distilled from the must, the skins and stems left over after making wine, much like grappa, the season for making raki follows the wine harvest. Considered a brandy, raki contains about 40% alcohol. A fairly strong drink, raki quite often comes complimentary with a small desert at a restaurant when requesting the check. Raki, is generally served chilled, as it is considered a digestive. The season for making raki follows wine making, usually mid-October to early November in Crete. Tsikoudia, is a protected designation of the EU and considered original when it comes from Crete. Some commercial production exists, but most of the production is by local folks for their own consumption or serving at their restaurant. Much like the “village” wine concept, so widespread throughout Greece.
Making “Village” Raki the Traditional Way on Crete. Stems and seeds are kept for about 40 days in barrels, during which time fermentation takes place. A distillery, traditionally called a rakokazano or raki boiler, comprises sealed copper boiler(s) containing the stems and seeds, some remnant wine and water, and a series of long, copper funnels and tubes. Once the “bonfires” are lit under the copper boiler and the temperatures inside the boiler reach the requisite level, distilled liquid is collected in glass containers. A traditional rakokazano is a one man show. And, distillers are called kazanari. Nothing goes to waste in Crete. Even the fuel for the “bonfires” is recycled product in the form of crushed olive stones! No aging of the spirit occurs here, we were tasting spirit still warmed by the distillation process.
Cheesemaking on Crete
If you are seeking to try the best, traditional foods in Crete, you must try the traditional cheeses. Enjoying traditional Cretan cheeses is one of the culinary highlights of any visit to Crete. Almost all restaurants in Crete offer cheese platters, featuring a wide variety of locally-produced cheeses. You will often see it as an appetizer, as its job is to cleanse the palate and stimulate the appetite. Try it with raki, or maybe a local wine.
Sheep’s milk cheeses dominate in Crete. Goat’s milk cheeses are also popular and there is also some cow’s milk cheeses. If you’ve never tried sheep or goat’s milk cheese, then here is your opportunity. And, they are healthier cheeses than cow’s milk cheeses! Some of the more popular cheeses to look out for are:
Kefalograviera is usually made from sheep’s milk but may also contain both sheep and goat’s milk. It’s a hard table cheese and is often the cheese of choice for saganaki.
Kefalotyri is a semi-hard, salty cheese which is traditionally aged in mountain huts. It tastes a little like gruyere and is considered the ancestor cheese for all Greek, hard cheese varieties. A lovely cheese to enjoy with grapes, figs and pears, or maybe on your pizza, accompanied with some red wine, of course.
Myzithra is an unpasteurized cheese made with the whey of sheep’s cheese, although goat’s or cow’s milk is not uncommon either. You can buy it dried, but the more popular variety is the fresh cheese, which you need to consume within a couple of days. Myzithra is just glorious served with nuts and honey to enjoy at either breakfast or as a dessert!
It’s not just the cheeses that are brilliant on Crete but the yogurt as well! Try some at breakfast with honey and walnuts. Cretans love honey! One of Hippocrates foods for holistic health, honey provides many health benefits. Honey and yogurt make a simple dessert or breakfast. Raki pancakes and loukoumades are also served with honey. Thyme honey was the most common flavor we found, but there are many. Depending on the source of pollen for the bees, the health benefits of honey vary. Thyme honey, from Chania, improves the function of the respiratory system, while orange tree honey improves the circulatory system. Other varieties boost the immune system, strengthen the nervous system, provide allergy relief and many other benefits.
And we end our list of traditional Cretan foods with dessert. Dessert varies from beautiful pastries made with phyllo or handspun pastry dough, to simple yogurt or cheese with honey, or just fresh fruit.
But one of my favorites is loukoumades. These are small donuts, served drizzled with honey. While found on menus throughout Greece, but they are originally from Crete.
Dakos and Rusks
Of all the traditional foods in Crete, dakos seems the most common. Dakos are Cretan barley rusks, soaked in Olive oil, then topped with chopped tomato and fresh whey cheese. Served at any meal and found in almost any restaurant on Crete.
Cretan rusks are hard, twice cooked bread originally developed as a more nutritious form of bread which would last longer and travel well for field workers. Traditionally made from wheat and/or barley flour, there is also a version made from chickpea flour.
Extremely popular, rusks are served in every bread basket at every meal in Crete providing plenty of opportunities to try them.
Olive Oil on Crete
With olive tree cultivation on Crete for over 4000 years, and over 30,000,000 olive trees, Crete knows a bit about producing top quality olive oil! The oldest olive trees on Crete are over 2,000 years old! Olive trees bloom in the Spring and the harvest begins in the autumn, usually the beginning of November, and lasts 2-3 months, but it varies based on weather and location. In a warm year, mid-October for harvest is not uncommon.
Ninety percent of the olive oil produced in Crete is extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) processed without chemical interventions. Low acidity, less than .05, rich aroma and particular flavors are characteristics of olive oil from Crete. High in antioxidants, olive oil is a healthy oil or fat.
People who follow a traditional Cretan diet, also widely known as the Mediterranean diet, have low rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer – living longer and generally healthier than others. One of the secrets seems to be eating healthy fats. In Crete, the primary source of healthy fats is olive oil. The average olive oil consumption in Crete per person annually is 35 liters! So, for a household of 4 – that is 140 liters of olive oil – almost 3 liters a week. Many people drink a shot of olive oil daily.
And as an Adventurer, you will notice how much olive oil you consume – salads, breads, meats, everything served with a generous amount of olive oil, the “Gold of Crete.”
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands. Crete rests approximately 160 km (99 mi) south of the Greek mainland. It bounds the southern border of the Aegean Sea, with the Sea of Crete (or North Cretan Sea) to the north and the Libyan Sea (or South Cretan Sea) to the south.
Humans have inhabited the island since at least 130,000 years ago, during the Paleolithic age. Crete was the centre of Europe’s first advanced civilization, the Minoans, from 2700 to 1420 BC. The Minoan civilization was overrun by the Mycenaean civilization from mainland Greece. Crete was later ruled by Rome, then successively by the Byzantine Empire, Andalusian Arabs, the Venetian Republic and the Ottoman Empire. In 1898 Crete, whose people had for some time wanted to join the Greek state, achieved independence from the Ottomans, formally becoming the Cretan State. Crete became part of Greece in December 1913.
The island is mostly mountainous, and its character is defined by a high mountain range crossing from west to east. It includes Crete’s highest point, Mount Ida, and the range of the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) with 30 summits above 6500 feet in altitude and the Samaria Gorge, a World Biosphere Reserve. Crete forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece, while retaining its own local cultural traits (such as its own poetry and music). The Nikos Kazantzakis airport at Heraklion and the Daskalogiannis airport at Chania serve international travelers. The palace of Knossos, a Bronze Age settlement and ancient Minoan city, is also located in Heraklion.
The Minoan civilization was a Bronze Age Aegean civilization on the island of Crete and other Aegean Islands, whose earliest beginnings were from c. 3500 BC, with the complex urban civilization beginning around 2000 BC, and then declining from c. 1450 BC until it ended around 1100 BC, during the early Greek Dark Ages. It represents the first advanced civilization in Europe, leaving behind a number of massive building complexes, sophisticated art, and writing systems. Its economy benefited from a network of trade around much of the Mediterranean.
The civilization was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. The name “Minoan” derives from the mythical King Minos and was coined by Evans, who identified the site at Knossos with the labyrinth and the Minotaur. The Minoan civilization has been described as the earliest of its kind in Europe, and historian Will Durant called the Minoans “the first link in the European chain”.
The Minoan civilization is particularly notable for its large and elaborate palaces up to four storeys high, featuring elaborate plumbing systems and decorated with frescoes. The largest Minoan palace is that of Knossos, followed by that of Phaistos. The function of the palaces, like most aspects of Minoan governance and religion, remains unclear. The Minoan period saw extensive trade by Crete with Aegean and Mediterranean settlements, particularly those in the Near East. Through traders and artists, Minoans cultural influence reached beyond Crete to the Cyclades, the Old Kingdom of Egypt, copper-bearing Cyprus, Canaan and the Levantine coast and Anatolia. Some of the best Minoan art was preserved in the city of Akrotiri on the island of Santorini; Akrotiri had been effectively destroyed by the Minoan eruption.
The Minoans primarily wrote in the Linear A script and also in Cretan hieroglyphs, encoding a language hypothetically labelled Minoan. The reasons for the slow decline of the Minoan civilization, beginning around 1550 BC, are unclear; theories include Mycenaean invasions from mainland Greece and the major volcanic eruption of Santorini.
During World War II, the island was the scene of the famous Battle of Crete in May 1941. The initial 11-day battle was bloody and left more than 11,000 soldiers and civilians killed or wounded. As a result of the fierce resistance from both Allied forces and civilian Cretan locals, the invasion force suffered heavy casualties, and Adolf Hitler forbade further large-scale paratroop operations for the rest of the war.
Crete uses the Euro for its currency.
The weather on Crete in May is a low of 59F and a high of 75F with average daily temperature of 66F. There is scant rainfall in May.